The Minor Planet Center (MPC) is the official worldwide organization in charge of collecting observational data for minor planets (such as asteroids) and comets, calculating their orbits and publishing this information via the Minor Planet Circulars. Under the auspices of the International Astronomical Union, it operates at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, which is part of the Center for Astrophysics along with the Harvard College Observatory.
The MPC runs a number of free online services for observers to assist them in observing minor planets and comets. The complete catalogue of minor planet orbits (sometimes referred to as the "Minor Planet Catalogue") may also be freely downloaded. In addition to astrometric data, the MPC collects light curve photometry of minor planets. A key function of the MPC is helping observers coordinate follow up observations of possible Near Earth Objects (NEOs) via its NEO web form and blog. The MPC is also responsible for identifying, and alerting to, new NEOs with a risk of impacting Earth in the few weeks following their discovery (see Potentially hazardous objects and § Videos).
The Minor Planet Center was set up at the University of Cincinnati in 1947, under the direction of Paul Herget. Upon Herget's retirement on June 30, 1978, the MPC was moved to the SAO, under the direction of Brian G. Marsden. From 2006–2015, the director of the MPC was Timothy Spahr, who oversaw a staff of five. As of February 2015, the Minor Planet Center is headed by interim director Matthew Holman.
The MPC periodically releases astrometric observations of minor planets, as well as of comets and natural satellites. These publications are the Minor Planet Circulars (MPCs), the Minor Planet Electronic Circulars (MPECs), and the Minor Planet Supplements (MPSs and MPOs). An extensive archive of publications in a PDF format is available at the Minor Planet Center's website. The archive's oldest publication dates back to 1 November 1977 (MPC 4937–5016).